Different emphases

Different emphases

In comparison: New standard translation of the Bible… © Arne Dedert

Different emphases

…and the new Luther Bible © Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

At the same time, the two churches launch their new official Bible translations. A comparison shows that they approached their revision task differently – beyond confessional differences.

Church official Bible translations form a particularly complicated subgroup in the division of translations. They must not only correspond to the source text and the target language, but also be readable in the service, if necessary singable.

Many readers are particularly sensitive when the familiar wording is changed. With the new Catholic Unified Translation (Eu) and the revised Luther Bible, the two churches have now presented the results of years of work.

Both translations take on board new biblical findings, such as the fact that Paul sends his greetings to a woman named Junia in the Letter to the Romans – and not, as previously read, to a man named Junias. They say goodbye to the linguistic quirks of the 1970s: "they were very shocked" becomes "they were full of amazement" (Eu; in Luther "they were horrified" remains unchanged). But while the Eu wants to offer "a translation very close to the basic text" that is "easily readable through modern language," "Luther 2017" has, by its own admission, "restored the familiar and catchy Luther language in many cases".

Which ways do the translations take?

In the first sentence of the Bible, the Eu adds a syllable: "In the beginning God created (formerly: ‘created’) heaven and earth" and thus at the same time departs from Luther, where it says: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth". There it continues: "And the earth was desolate and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." In 1984 it still read, "It was dark on the deep," and the Spirit of God floated "on" the water. The Eu translates here:

"The earth (formerly supplemented by ‘but’) was desolate and confused" – to take up the sound of the Hebrew "tohu wabohu" – "and darkness was over the primeval flood, and God’s spirit hovered over the waters". In the following verses of the creation account, Luther 2017 consistently sticks with the old verb form "es ward," where the Eu continues to write "it became".

In the new Luther Bible, "woman" becomes "woman" at the creation of man: "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; and created them male and female.The Eu translates: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him". Male and female he created them." In the old catch it still said: "As male and female he created them"; instead of "image" it had said "likeness".

Different tone in the New Testament

Even in the New Testament, the two translations have a different sound. Thus the Christmas story of Luke’s Gospel begins in Luther 2017 with the familiar words: "Now it came to pass in those days, that a commandment went forth from the emperor Augustus, that all the world should be esteemed.The Eu formulates: "But it came to pass in those days that the emperor Augustus ied an order to enroll the whole world in tax lists" and thereby remains closer to the Greek text than in 1980, when it read: "In those days the emperor Augustus ied an order to enroll all the inhabitants of the empire in tax lists"."

In verse 5, the Luther translation has Joseph now set out for the "Judean land" (formerly: "Jewish"), "because (formerly: ‘because’) he was of the house and lineage of David.". In the Eu, Joseph "went up to Judea, for he was of the house and lineage of David".

He wanted – it goes on to say – "to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting a child". Luther translates: "that (formerly: ‘so that’) he might be esteemed with Mary, his familiar wife; she was with child.".

The samples show how much detailed work has been done on the texts and that the differences do not reflect denominational differences. Luther 2017 opts for the familiar wording when in doubt, even if this is at the expense of comprehensibility. In the Gospel of John, for example, instead of "He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (1984; so also the Eu), it now says again: "He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live". Martin Luther himself might have "looked the people in the mouth" here and formulated it differently today.

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